IT'S NOT MILLER TIME ANYMORE. I had intended to take a closer look at the Dark Lord's address today, and perhaps I will later on. But on reflection, it seems that the most significant moment of last night - indeed, of the entire convention - was the ranting, hate-filled keynote speech delivered by Democratic senator Zell Miller, of Georgia.
Miller had been prancing and preening around the RNC all week, practically becoming a co-host on the Fox News Channel, where his disgruntled-Democrat act was an irresistable story line. But make no mistake: Miller is a phony, puffed-up fool who up until a couple of years ago had nothing but nice things to say about John Kerry. Check out "Zig Zag Zell," on the American Progress website.
Still, nothing prepared me for what I saw last night. His face twisted in rage, bellowing like a crazed hyena, Miller essentially accused Kerry of disloyalty - treason, practically - for having the temerity to run against an incumbent president during a time of war.
This excerpt is rather mild compared to some of the other passages, but important nevertheless:
In 1940, Wendell Willkie was the Republican nominee....
He gave Roosevelt the critical support he needed for a peacetime draft, an unpopular idea at the time.
And he made it clear that he would rather lose the election than make national security a partisan campaign issue.
Shortly before Wilkie died, he told a friend that if he could write his own epitaph and had to choose between "here lies a president" or "here lies one who contributed to saving freedom," he would prefer the latter.
Where are such statesmen today? Where is the bipartisanship in this country when we need it most?
Today, at the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief.
Excuse me? Is it even necessary to point out that Bush's dubious prosecution of the struggle against terrorism, his grotesque misjudgment in going to war against Iraq, and his shocking incompetence in managing the aftermath of that war are the most critical issues facing the country? Doesn't Bush have to defend himself? Wouldn't even his most ardent supporter concede that these are issues worthy of debate? As William Saletan points out in Slate today, this is why we have elections.
Miller visited CNN late last night, and the gang was uncharacteristically well-prepared, ripping apart his lies as he sputtered and fulminated. In particular, they went after Miller's contention that Kerry is soft on defense, and that he has so frequently voted against weapons systems that he would leave the US military with little more than "spitballs." Let's roll the tape. Pardon the length of this excerpt, but it's worth it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Miller, the Democrats are pointing out that John Kerry voted for 16 of 19 defense budgets that came through Congress while he was in the Senate, and many of these votes that you cited, Dick Cheney also voted against, that they were specific weapons systems.
MILLER: What I was talking about was a period of 19 years in the Senate. I've been in the Senate for four years. There's quite a few years' difference there. I have gotten documentation on every single one of those votes that I talked about here today. I've got more documentation here than the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library put together on that.
JEFF GREENFIELD: You also were, I would say, almost indignant that anyone would possibly call America military occupiers, not liberators, on at least four occasions. President Bush has referred to the presence of American forces in Iraq as an occupation, and the question is: Are you not selectively choosing words to describe the same situation the president of the United States is describing?
MILLER: I don't know if the president of the United States uses those words, but I know Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry have used them on several occasions.
GREENFIELD: Yes. So has President Bush.
MILLER: Well, I don't know about that.
GREENFIELD: Well, we'll-
WOLF BLITZER: You know that when the secretary - when the vice-president was the secretary of defense he proposed cutting back on the B-2 Bomber, the F-14 Tomcat as well. I covered him at the Pentagon during those years when he was raising serious concerns about those two weapons systems.
MILLER: Look, the record is, as I stated, he [Kerry] voted against, he opposed all of those weapons systems. That, to me, I think shows the kind of priority he has as far as national defense.
Look, John Kerry came back from Vietnam as a young man unsure of whether America was a force for good or evil in the world. He still has that uncertainty about him.
WOODRUFF: You praised him-
GREENFIELD: Then why did you say in 2001 that he strengthened the military? You said that three years ago.
MILLER: Because that was the biographical sketch that they gave me. This young senator - not young senator, but new senator had come up there, and all I knew was that this man had won the Purple Heart three times and won the Silver Star and-
Look, I went back and researched the records, and I looked at these, and I - when I was putting that speech together, I wanted to make sure, whenever I sat down with people like you who would take these talking points from the Democrats and who also have covered politics for years, that I would know exactly what I was talking about, and we don't have time to go through it on the air, but I can go through every one of those things that were mentioned about where he voted.
He voted against the B-1 Bomber-
BLITZER: A lot of-
MILLER: -on October the 15th, '90, and on and on.
WOODRUFF: But do you simply reject the idea that Vice-President Cheney, as Wolf said and as we know from the record, also voted against some of these systems?
MILLER: I don't think Cheney voted against these.
BLITZER: No, but he opposed some of them when he was the defense secretary, and sometimes he was overruled by the Congress because he was concerned, he was worried that the defense of the United States could be better served by some other weapons systems, not specifically those. I'm specifically referring to the B-2 and the F-14 Tomcat.
MILLER: I'm talking about John Kerry's record. I'll let Dick Cheney, the vice-president, answer those charges. He knows what happened in the Department of Defense years ago. I don't know that.
Do you think Miller realized he had just destroyed his credibility?
Last night I wrote on the fly that Miller might have delivered the most hateful major address since Pat Buchanan's "culture war" speech in 1992. Somewhat to my surprise, that immediately became a talking point in CNN's coverage.
Greenfield referenced Buchanan and told Aaron Brown: "I mean, when you say basically that the effort against terrorism is being weakened because of the Democrats' obsession with bringing down a commander-in-chief, you are basically saying that the other party is not part of an effort to defeat the enemies of the United States."
Bill Schneider said he thought Miller's speech was even angrier than Buchanan's: "In a way, yes, I do. I do because it was basically accusing the Democrats - there were some breathtaking accusations."
Joe Klein: "The difference between this speech and Pat Buchanan's speech in '92 is that Pat Buchanan was making a diffuse attack on - you know, on cultural liberals. Zell Miller was making a very particular and very personal attack on a nominee for president of the United States."
Okay, this is a lot of CNN, and it is experiencing some serious ratings problems this week: on Tuesday, at least, it even did worse than MSNBC. I don't know how long Miller's outburst will be remembered. The papers today rely mainly on Miller's advance text, and of course tomorrow it will be all Bush.
On the other hand, we still remember Buchanan's hateful invective of 14 years ago, and of how it helped do in Bush's father. This could be one of those things that takes a little while to register. But if and when it does, Karl Rove may be sorry he'd ever allowed this vicious, fake little man to command center stage.
NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Last night I was free - at last! - to watch the proceedings on CNN. Earlier, I holed up with the Fox News Channel, watching the GOP on GOP-TV.